I recently wrote about the best available recommendations for when to introduce gluten to babies who may be at risk of developing Celiac Disease. Although most babies are exposed to small amounts of gluten in breast milk, for my 4th baby (first born after my diagnosis), my breast milk was gluten free. Based on the best available evidence in the medical literature, small amounts of gluten should be given between 4 to 6 months of age, as it seems this is a critical window for the development of the immune system. If gluten is introduced later than this, the consensus is that it is important for breastfeeding to still be taking place during gluten introduction (see references in my previous post for more info).
I understand that this is a controversial area, as many parents feel that they should never introduce gluten to the at-risk child. I believe that, despite our best efforts to shield our children from gluten, they are eventually going to be exposed one way or another.
I did recently discover that the question of the timing of gluten introduction is being explored in Europe right now through the PreventCD study (www.preventCD.com).
This study has been sponsored by the European Union and involves 11 countries. More than 1000 infants were enrolled in the study from 2007 through 2011, and they are now being followed for the development of Celiac Disease from infancy until age 3. Based on the latest newsletter on the study website, the last participant will turn 3 in 2013, and the results will be “unblinded” at this point.
The 1000 infants in the study were all considered to be “at risk” for CD by having a first-degree relative (parent and/sibling) with Celiac Disease and being HLA-DQ2 and/or DQ8 positive. The study “intervention” started at 4 months of age and went for 8 weeks. Half of the babies were given a gluten-containing baby food on a daily basis and half were given a placebo. Breastfeeding was encouraged for both groups during the 8 week period.
The endpoint of the study is to see if there is any difference in frequency of Celiac Disease between the two groups at age 3. As a mom, Celiac, and pediatrician, I am eagerly awaiting these results. I am also intereseted to see if they will have the funding and resources to be able to follow the children into later childhood and adolescence. Either way, the results which they share will be valuable for all of us!
Although the study results will not be published for a while, the researchers have published an interesting review paper on infant feeding and Celiac Disease:
Systematic review: early infant feeding and the prevention of coeliac disease. Szajewska H, Chmielewska A, Pieścik-Lech M, Ivarsson A, Kolacek S, Koletzko S, Mearin ML, Shamir R, Auricchio R, Troncone R; PREVENTCD Study Group.Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2012 Oct;36(7):607-18.
The full details of their study are described in this paper:
The PreventCD Study design: towards new strategies for the prevention of coeliac disease. Hogen Esch CE, Rosén A, Auricchio R, Romanos J, Chmielewska A, Putter H, Ivarsson A, Szajewska H, Koning F, Wijmenga C, Troncone R, Mearin ML; PreventCD Study Group.Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010 Dec;22(12):1424-30.